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Roy Hodgson’s starting XI against Italy – combinations and permutations

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In the weathered hands of England manager Roy Hodgson rests a seemingly infinite number of combinations and permutations from which to pluck a starting XI for the World Cup opener against Italy on Saturday.

Attack is where the discrepancy lives. Joe Hart will start in goal, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Glen Johnson will be the starting back four, and Steven Gerrard has locked down one of the central midfield spots.

That much we know. But from there on forward, things get sticky.

The general issue is whether Hodgson will go aggressive and deploy a diamond midfield behind two strikers or whether he’ll opt for the balance of a 4-2-3-1, utilizing two holding players behind three attacking midfielders and a lone striker. But formation is only one component of Hodgson’s prescription. A considerably larger concern is one of personnel and with a number of talented young stallions at his disposal, the England manager has some very difficult decisions to make.

So let’s take a look at a few different setups Hodgson has available to roll out against the Azzurri.

THE TASTE OF LIVERPOOL

The most talked about formation for England, the 4-4-2 diamond midfield, happens to be the same shape Liverpool used to claim second place in the past season’s Premier League. Brendan Rodgers perfected this setup with a rotating group of midfielders but always present in the bunch was Gerrard, at the fulcrum, and Raheem Sterling, in any one of the three advanced roles. Proving himself capable of opening defenses up from the left or right side, Sterling’s game rose to a new level late in the season when Rodgers inserted him into the center of the pitch where his quickness and evasive nature proved too much for stiff-legged central defenders.

source: Getty Images
Adam Lallana looks poised to exchange his Southampton shirt for a Liverpool kit.

Another key to the diamond midfield is balance, which is achieved through utilizing fit outside midfielders who have no issue playing both sides of the ball. And there’s no better man for that job than Jordan Henderson, who makes 90 minutes of sprinting look like a walk in the park.

A fellow Liverpool player, Henderson has an intimate understanding of Gerrard and Sterling as well as how to correctly use the diamond shape to his advantage. Henderson’s ability to drop deep, at times even alongside Gerrard, allows Hodgson to select a fourth member of the midfield with slightly more aggressive tendencies.

And who better for that role than Adam Lallana, the $34-42M transfer target of Liverpool, who looks primed to join the Reds by the end of July? The 26-year-old excelled on the left side for Southampton this past year, is not opposed to running himself ragged for 70 odd minutes and provides devastating trickery to compliment that of Sterling.

Opting for a four man midfield with Liverpool connections may feel biased but it’s a proven commodity that sparks goals. Factor in the Daniel Sturridge connection up top and this feels like a balanced yet aggressive lineup for Hodgson to utilize in the event he truly desires to take the game to Italy.

THE (ROONEY-LESS?) YOUTH BLITZ

If Hodgson really wants to throw a curveball at Italy he’ll unleash the youth, likely in a 4-2-3-1, which provides a bit more protection than the diamond. The youth setup would partner 22-year-old Jack Wilshere alongside Gerrard in what would be a clever pivot. Wilshere’s love for the tackle compliments that of Gerrard while the Arsenal man’s knack for creating off-the-dribble would provide a key link between the attacking midfielders and the striker.

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Many pundits feel Wayne Rooney’s starting spot could be in jeopardy. Will Hodgson pull the plug?

In front of Gerrard and Wilshere would be 19-year-old Sterling on the left wing, 20-year-old Ross Barkley in the central attacking role and, ideally, 20-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right wing. The obvious issue currently facing this system is that Oxlade-Chamberlain is nursing a knee issue that may keep him out against Italy. While his speed and two directional play would devastate and provide balance to this shape he’d be well deputized by Henderson or Danny Welbeck, who would then swap sides with Sterling.

One downside of a youth blitz in a 4-2-3-1 is that Wayne Rooney may be the odd man out. It’s a predicament many pundits believe Hodgson may be inclined to move forward with given the United man’s sub-par Premier League season and poor World Cup history. That said, charging forward without Rooney in the starting lineup feels like a titanic miss and one that Hodgson would be wise to avoid risking. Instead, Hodgson could push forward with a youth blitz and Rooney, who could partner with Sturridge in front of a diamond midfield made up of Gerrard, Sterling, Barkley and Ox/Henderson/Welbeck/Wilshere.

Regardless of using a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 diamond, the key to the youth blitz would be giving England fans that which they fiend for the most: Sterling alongside Barkley in what would be a freakishly athletic, skillful and audacious pair that few opposing defenses, including the Italians, would be equipped to handle.

THE RUNNING MAN

As we know by now, heat and humidity will play a large role in this World Cup meaning many a match will come down to a battle of the fittest. And no venue will provide a greater challenge of the conditions than the sweltering jungle of Manaus, where England faces Italy. To hedge against those conditions, don’t be surprised if Hodgson opts for an attacking group of running men, which means James Milner becomes a real possibility to start.

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James Milner’s third lung may be enough to get him into Roy Hodgson’s starting XI.

The City man is as fit as the come. Inserting him on the right side along with Gerrard in the fulcrum, the inexhaustible Henderson on the left, and Sterling at the point of a diamond midfield could prove a very wise play.

If Hodgson opts for a 4-2-3-1, Rooney could drop into the attacking midfield role, Sterling to the bench and Wilshere alongside Gerrard.

It’s a lineup that would allow England to put Italy under pressure and bring veteran leadership into the side. While not the most exciting play, Milner’s work rate could break down Italy’s left side for a sub like Sterling or Oxlade-Chamberlain to then capitalize.

THE OLD GUARD

The most conservative and downright uninspiring attack Hodgson could play would be to pair Gerrard with Milner and Frank Lampard.

source: Getty Images
Frank Lampard can play a role for England in the World Cup, hopefully just not as a starter.

Whether in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 and regardless of who is played on the left side, such a lineup would reek of a lack of ambition and spell doom for England.

Fortunately, while such a makeup could have been foreseeable under Fabio Capello’s tenure as manager, it seems unlikely that Hodgson would revert to such a level of conservative tactics. There is a freshness about this England squad that is just begging to be unleashed on the world.

What better stage to make it happen than to kickoff Brazil 2014?

 

 

 

One week left: Shopping lists for each Premier League side

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Anthony Martial of Manchester United and Jose Fonte of Southampton compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on January 23, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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We are one week away from the transfer window slamming shut on Premier League clubs, some of whom have a lot of glaring holes.

Others? Not-so-much, but all 20 teams certainly have areas their managers would love to see strengthened for the other 36 games of this grueling season.

[ MORE: Jack Harrison in his own words ]

It’s hard for some teams to assess at this point, with players coming off busy summers, and adapting to new leagues, coaches and roles. Some teams, like Hull City, are off to a dream start but surely also no illusions. Others, like Arsenal, know things aren’t nearly as bad as they seem after a 1-point start to the campaign.

Although things are indeed bad. Just not relegation bad.

Let’s wait no more…

Arsenal — I’m starting to consider that Arsene Wenger‘s defensive preparations involve using a club to whack at his defenders’ bodies. Depth in the back is key, and Arsenal sure could use that high-profile, effective forward they’ve needed for a long, long while.

Bournemouth — In a pretty good spot now, but an added defender capable of playing any position on the back line is not a bad idea.

Burnley — While the addition of Steven Defour is fantastic, another weapon like him wouldn’t be bad. Honestly, it’s too bad Danny Ings didn’t stick around!

Chelsea — Defensive depth in the center park would be useful. The long time link with Napoli center back Koulibaly isn’t going anywhere.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

Crystal Palace — All set on target strikers, someone to run off Christian Benteke and Connor Wickham could be useful.

Everton — What’s needed is much different from what would be appreciated, and Ronald Koeman wouldn’t mind an upgrade at goalkeeper, insurance at center back, and depth at striker.

Hull City — Name a position, and Hull could likely use an addition. We’re not trying to be mean, it’s simply the name of the game for the 2-0 Tigers.

Leicester City — With Europe on the horizon, any depth would be useful for the Foxes. Another outside back or a contract extension for Danny Simpson wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Liverpool —  We forget how many players have yet to debut for the Reds, who really don’t have to add at this point (but may, perhaps at left back).

Manchester City — Pep Guardiola has shaken up everything, so who knows what else could happen? We suspect offloading, if anything.

Manchester United — Jose Mourinho would like to strengthen his center back depth, and signing Jose Fonte would certainly help United contend in both England and Europe.

Middlesbrough — The Boro have added plenty this offseason, and might just be done. Though with Jordan Rhodes looking increasingly likely to leave, another forward isn’t a bad idea.

Southampton — An attacking center mid and striker depth will be important, as will confidence in its center back corps if and when Jose Fonte leaves town.

Sunderland — Keeping Lamine Kone would be as big a victory as any player David Moyes could add, though the Black Cats need help almost everywhere. Center back is the biggest concern, Kone or not.

Stoke City — Center back help is needed here, too, but let’s not forget that Geoff Cameron is indispensable and yet to debut.

Swansea City — See above, as Ashley Williams‘ move to Everton really hit Francesco Guidolin‘s team where it was already thin.

Tottenham Hotspur — Depth moves here, perhaps most likely in the midfield.

[ MORE: West Ham to add Swiss mid? ]

Watford — Likely done, though another defender wouldn’t hurt.

West Bromwich Albion — Tony Pulis has made a couple very good pick-ups in underrated QPR man Matty Phillips and Everton loanee Brendan Galloway. That said, he’d love to get better at every spot on the pitch. Anything is possible if the bosses open their wallets.

West Ham United — A striker would help with injuries to Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew. Otherwise, the Irons are sneaky deep everywhere.

Watford adds marauding Dutch back Janmaat from Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Daryl Janmaat of Newcastle in action during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Newcastle United at Craven Cottage on August 5, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Watford has added value with the transfer of Daryl Janmaat from Newcastle United.

Janmaat, 27, is a marauding right back with size who made 77 appearances for the Magpies. The fee is reportedly in the $10 million range.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

In Janmaat, Watford has scooped a former Newcastle Player of the Year who is terrific down the wing and an excellent crosser of the ball. He has 27 caps for the Netherlands.

From WatfordFC.com:

“I’m really happy to be here, it’s a new adventure for me. I was really pleased that Watford showed interest in me because I wanted to play in the Premier League.

“We [Newcastle] lost three times to Watford last season. They had a good season and I hope we can do the same again this year.

“The club is showing great ambition and wants to improve, and I want to be part of that.”

The Hornets have drawn Southampton and lost to Chelsea this season, and were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Gillingham on Tuesday.

West Ham adds big $7.5 million midfielder from Swiss League

THUN, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 26: James Ward-Prowse of England U21 (R) fights for the ball with Edimilson Fernandes of Switzerland U21 during the European Under 21 Qualifier match between Switzerland U21 and England U21 at Stockhorn Arena on March 26, 2016 in Thun, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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West Ham United is not done in the transfer market.

According to Sky Sports, the Irons have added another midfielder to their potent attack.

Edimilson Fernandes, 20, comes from FC Sion, and will reportedly cost Slaven Bilic‘s side about $7.5 million.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

The 6-foot-3 20-year-old has made 48 league appearances for Sion, and has an assist in five matches this early season.

West Ham has added Havard Nordtveit, Sofiane Feghouli and Gokhan Tore to the mix, and already had a talented mix with Cheikhou Kouyate, Dimitri Payet, Michail Antonio, Mark Noble and Manuel Lanzini.

Suffice to say the Irons are well-stocked for the Premier League and Europa League. West Ham picked up a road goal in a 1-1 draw last week in Romania, and are 90 Thursday minutes away from advancing to the group stage of UEL.

Fernandes is the cousin of current Rennes and ex-Man City man Gelson Fernandes.

CCL Update: Vancouver seizes control; FC Dallas in Nicaragua tonight

Vancouver Whitecaps' Cristian Techera celebrates his second goal against Sporting Kansas City, during the second half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Things do not look good for Sporting KC in CONCACAF Champions League play.

Vancouver worked SKC 3-0 on Tuesday night, using a pair of goals from Cristian Techera and a goal and assist from Erik Hurtado to gain a five-point lead on both KC and Central in Group C.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger to MLS? ]

The ‘Caps beat Central 1-0 in Trinidad and Tobago, and still get to host them and visit Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

Thanks to Central’s 1-1 draw with Sporting KC, Vancouver is in fine shape to advance with another win, another draw between SKC and Central, or a few other scenarios.

MLS in CCL

FC Dallas at Real Esteli — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday
Vancouver at Sporting KC — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 13
Portland at Deportivo Saprissa — 10 p.m. ET Sept. 14
Alianza at New York Red Bulls — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 15
New York Red Bulls at Antigua GFC — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 27
Portland at CD Dragon — 10 p.m. ET Sept. 27
CD Suchitepequez at FC Dallas — 8 p.m. ET Sept. 28
Central at Vancouver — 10 p.m. ET Sept. 28
Central at Sporting KC — 8 p.m. ET Oct. 19
Deportivo Saprissa at Portland — 10 p.m. ET Oct. 19
FC Dallas at CD Suchitepequez — 8 p.m. ET Oct. 20